Panel recommends annual flu vaccinations for all

ATLANTA (AP) - A government panel is now recommending that
virtually all Americans get a flu shot each year, starting this
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices had gradually
been expanding its recommendation for flu shots - 85 percent of
Americans were already included.
On Wednesday, the panel voted to recommend a seasonal flu
vaccination for everyone except babies younger than 6 months and
those with egg allergies or other unusual conditions.
The panel's recommendation now goes to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. The CDC usually follows the panel's advice
and spreads the message to doctors and hospitals across the
"Now no one should say 'Should I or shouldn't I?"' said Dr.
Anthony Fiore, a CDC flu specialist.
CDC vaccination recommendations tend to be influential with the
doctors who give the shots and the health insurers who pay for
Flu shots are already recommended for 85 percent of the U.S.
public, including pregnant women, children older than 6 months,
adults 50 and older, people with certain chronic health conditions,
health care workers and those who take care of people in a
recommended group. The only people who weren't specifically
included were healthy people ages 19 to 49 who don't have close
contact with anyone at risk of flu and its complications.
But only about 33 percent of Americans actually get a flu shot,
and unusually millions and millions of doses get thrown away
The swine flu pandemic that hit last year caused a new momentum
for flu vaccinations. Virtually all the 114 million doses of
seasonal flu vaccine doses made were distributed, and more young
adults and children got the swine flu vaccine than usually come out
for seasonal flu.
The panel voted 11 to 0 - with one abstention - for the
recommendation, prompting a short round of applause in the CDC
auditorium where the meeting was held. Some public health experts
and physicians had been pushing for a universal flu vaccination
recommendation for more than 10 years.
Also on Wednesday, the panel gave its nod to a proposed
formulation of next year's seasonal flu vaccine. The vaccine will
be built to protect against three strains of flu scientists think
will be circulating next fall and winter. Swine flu is to be one of
the strains incorporated into the vaccine.
At past meetings, the panel stopped short of recommending flu
shots for everyone. Panel members were mindful of a history of
temporary flu vaccine shortages in the United States. They worried
a universal recommendation might cause demand to far surpass supply
and endanger those at the highest risk of life-threatening flu
"Yet every year we wasted millions and millions of doses,"
said Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert
who for years has passionately pushed the panel to recommend flu
shots for all.
The swine flu vaccine campaign appears to be ending the same
way. Doses were scarce when the swine flu vaccine first became
available in early October, but now roughly 90 million people have
been vaccinated, demand is dying and millions of doses are unused.
Swine flu provided another argument for universal vaccination.
The new virus proved to be unusually dangerous to young adults, and
also took a surprising toll on Native Americans and obese people.
Many of those hospitalized and killed by swine flu were not in
groups previously recommended for annual flu shots, and that fact
was another reason to expand the vaccination recommendation,
experts said.
There are a few exceptions to the universal recommendation.
Children under 6 months of age, who have undeveloped immune
systems, will continue to be exempt. So too will people who have
egg allergies (the vaccine is made using eggs) and those who have
had certain severe reactions to flu shots in the past.
The panel also decided that elderly people can consider a new,
revved-up version of the seasonal flu shot. It's a Sanofi Pasteur
vaccine for adults 65 and older.
In years when the flu shot is well matched to circulating flu
viruses, vaccine is 70 to 90 percent effective in people younger
than 65, the CDC estimates. But it tends to be only 30 to 70
percent effective in those who are older because they generally
have weakened immune systems.
The Sanofi vaccine - called Fluzone High-Dose - has four times
as much immunity-building antibodies as a standard dose. The U.S.
Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine in December, and
it should be available for the 2010-2011 flu season. It would cost
about $25 a shot, or about twice the standard version.
The panel did not state a preference for the vaccine, however.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine through
an accelerated process, and Sanofi is to do further studies to show
the shot reduces flu illnesses.
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(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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